China’s investment in Africa has increased remarkably over the last decade and the nation is just one of many economic power houses with long-term plans in the continent. Whenever I travel to Ghana for example, I tend to see many Chinese workers heading back to Accra. Having spoken to a number of Africans about the potential implications of China’s growing presence in the continent, critics question whether China is a friend or a foe of Africa? However, I am more interested in understanding how African countries can benefit from this growing partnership.
In my last article entitled, ‘Africa the continent overlooked,’ I highlighted that while investments in Africa have escalated over the last decade, there is still a lot of work to be done with better telecommunication, road infrastructure and health care institutions, especially given the latest Ebola epidemic. The changing landscape has created a window of opportunity for investors seeking to benefit in the continent.
China’s (Africa’s largest trading partner) bilateral trade with Africa reached a staggering $200bn in 2013, more than double Africa’s trade with the United States and far beyond the current level of trade with Europe. Many spectators believe China is after Africa’s natural resources – oil, diamonds, copper, gold, bauxite and agriculture goods. However, China’s interest in Africa goes far beyond raw materials. It has been estimated that over one million Chinese nationals have moved to the region to work on infrastructure projects, from roads and dams to the construction of airports and schools. The Chinese are also supplying Africans with goods, including textiles and electronics.
Many critics have raised their concerns as to what the risk of China’s growing influence in the region represents. Firstly, the risk presented by China’s economic slowdown; African states have benefited from China’s economic boom over the past two decades, which in turn has led to the large scale investments in Africa. Now that China’s economy is slowing down, what implications will this have for the continent? Secondly, there are concerns regarding geopolitical risk posed by China. They have significant oversight of African dictatorship governments, an area that has raised significant criticism from the West, for example the 2011 Zambian election was dominated by fears over China’s interest in the mining sector. Finally, there is also the major risk that the Chinese may be driving locals out of business.
Although China has secured many contracts with a number of African states for infrastructure projects and a steady stream of natural resources, it is far from a one direction relationship. Grants and loans are provided to the region in there masses every year to secure these natural resources and contracts. The Chinese are also transferring their skills to the African labour force, which some Chinese companies have invested heavily in. The growing presence of China in Africa is becoming ever so present with an increasing number of Africans deciding to take up Mandarin. Furthermore, a growing number of students are choosing to attend university in China over Europe and the U.S.
One of the most notable critics of China’s growing presence in Africa is President Obama, who has raised concerns over China’s involvement in local politics and on Africa’s increasing dependence on the Chinese. In August 2014, many African heads of states joined Obama for a landmark programme of meetings with several American officials and business representatives for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Although Obama previously stated that he does not see China as a competitor when it comes to Africa, it is clear that the U.S. along with Brazil, India and Europe have an increasing desire to partner with Africa where China already has a head start.
Looking beyond the stereotype that China is embarking on dominating the African continent, it is clear that China will remain in Africa for the long term and both sides can reap benefits. The long term impact of Chinese led projects is not black and white. However, what is clear is that there are a large number of countries scrambling to participate in Africa’s growth story, not too dissimilar to historical events. With that said, it is increasingly apparent that despite the prevailing economic issues in Zambia and Ghana, now is the time for Africa to shine.
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